History of the Canadian Coast Guard

Prior to the Official Canadian Coast Guard's Inauguration 1867 to 1962

The Earl Grey 1910

The origins of a Canadian Coast Guard can be traced to as far back as the 1700s when the first lifeboats and lighthouses were established in Eastern Canada. The various governments that preceded a unified Canada had their own patrol vessels which began to appear along the eastern seaboard and in the Great Lakes in the 1800s. 

In 1868, one year after Confederation, the federal government established the Department of Marine and Fisheries. This department assumed responsibility for marine affairs, including the operation of government vessels and for various elements of marine infrastructure (aids to navigation, lifesaving stations, canals and waterways, marine regulatory bodies and supporting shore infrastructure). In 1936, responsibility for marine transportation shifted to the Department of Transport. 

By the 1940s, many organizations and communities pressed the government to form a national coast guard. Ocean commerce expanded tremendously, culminating, with the opening of the St-Lawrence Seaway in 1958. The Canadian Coast Guard was officially created by the Honourable Leon Balcer, the then Minister of Transport on January 26, 1962.

The Canadian Coast Guard's Years of Expansion 1962 to 2005

The Canadian Coast Guard Badge

Although its heritage can be traced back in time prior to Confederation, the official Canadian Coast Guard was created on January 26th, 1962 when the Honourable Leon Balcer, Minister of Transport rose in the House of Commons and announced that the Department of Transport fleet of ships would, in the future, be known as the Canadian Coast Guard.

The CCG Badge was approved by the Queen in 1962. It was created to symbolize the Canadian Coast Guard through different symbols. On the badge, one side is blue and the other is white. These colors symbolize the water in blue and the ice in white. The red maple leaf on the white part of the badge represents the emblem of Canada while the two golden dolphins represent the vessels of the Canadian Coast Guard. The dolphins, long known as a friend of mariners, are considered an appropriate symbol to this organization whose primary concern is safety in Canadian waters. The badge is enclosed within a rope frame with a knot tied at the base. This element, a very important part of life at sea, is another proud symbol of the Canadian Coast Guard. Finally, to indicate that CCG ships are in the service of the Queen in right of Canada, the badge is surmounted by the Royal Crown.

Marine Communications and Traffic Services

During its early days, the Canadian Coast Guard largely expanded its fleet. The ships received from the Marine Service were scheduled for replacement while new ships were commissioned. With such an important expansion of its fleet, the Canadian Coast Guard needed to train hundreds of new officers and crewmembers. That is when the Canadian Coast Guard College was built first on a former navy base in Point Edward, Nova Scotia and later, as the demand for more seagoing personnel grew, a facility was built in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

In 1995, in order to achieve cost savings, the Canadian Coast Guard transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in order to gather the two largest civilian fleets within the federal government under one department. DFO Science vessels and the Fisheries Conservation and Protection Fleet were incorporated with the Coast Guard Fleet. To better serve Canadians, the federal government started investigating the possibility to give CCG more independence by transforming it into a separate agency within DFO.

The Canadian Coast Guard As We Know It Today (2005 to Present)

In 2005, the Canadian Coast Guard was officially declared a “special operating agency” of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. At present, the services covered under this arrangement include:

  • Aids to Navigation
  • Icebreaking
  • Search and Rescue
  • Maritime Security
  • Environmental Response
  • Marine Communications and Traffic Services
  • Scientific Research, and
  • Waterways Management  

Today, the CCG is not only responsible for the longest coastline of any given country, but it is also responsible for the safe circulation of international commercial ships who cross our borders, the Canadian citizens who take pleasure in navigating our lakes and oceans during boating season, and for providing services to our Northern communities.

On an average day, the Canadian Coast Guard
  • Saves 15 lives;
  • Assists 52 people in 27 search and rescue cases;
  • Manages 1,233 vessel movements
  • Carries out 11 fisheries patrols;
  • Supports 8 scientific surveys;
  • Supports 3 hydrographic missions;
  • Deals with 3 reported pollution events; and
  • Surveys 3.5 kilometres of navigation channel bottom.

Learn more about Who we are and What we do.